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After this documentation was released in July 2003, I was approached by Prentice Hall and asked to write a book on the Linux VM under the Bruce Peren's Open Book Series.

The book is available and called simply "Understanding The Linux Virtual Memory Manager". There is a lot of additional material in the book that is not available here, including details on later 2.4 kernels, introductions to 2.6, a whole new chapter on the shared memory filesystem, coverage of TLB management, a lot more code commentary, countless other additions and clarifications and a CD with lots of cool stuff on it. This material (although now dated and lacking in comparison to the book) will remain available although I obviously encourge you to buy the book from your favourite book store :-) . As the book is under the Bruce Perens Open Book Series, it will be available 90 days after appearing on the book shelves which means it is not available right now. When it is available, it will be downloadable from http://www.phptr.com/perens so check there for more information.

To be fully clear, this webpage is not the actual book.
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11.6 Page Replacement Policy

During discussions the page replacement policy is frequently said to be a Least Recently Used (LRU)-based algorithm but this is not strictly speaking true as the lists are not strictly maintained in LRU order. The objective is for the active_list to contain the working set [#!denning70!#] of all processes and the inactive_list. As all reclaimable pages are contained in just two lists and all pages may be selected to reclaimed rather than just the faulting process, the replacement policy is a global one.

The lists resemble a simplified LRU 2Q [#!johnson94low!#] where two lists called Am and A1 are maintained. With LRU 2Q, pages when first allocated are placed on a FIFO queue called A1. If they are referenced while on that queue, they are placed in a normal LRU managed list called Am. This is roughly analogous to using lru_cache_add() to place pages on a queue called inactive_list (A1) and using mark_page_accessed() to get moved to the active_list (Am). The algorithm describes how the size of the two lists have to be tuned but Linux takes a simpler approach by using refill_inactive() to move pages from the bottom of active_list to inactive_list to keep active_list about two thirds the size of the total page cache. Figure 11.6 illustrates how the two lists are structured.

Figure 11.6: Page Cache LRU List

The lists described for 2Q presumes Am is an LRU list but the list in Linux closer resembles a Clock algorithm [#!carr84!#] where the hand-spread is the size of the active list. When pages reach the bottom of the list, the referenced flag is checked, if it is set, it is moved back to the top of the list and the next page checked. If it is cleared, it is moved to the inactive_list.

The Move-To-Front heuristic means that the lists behave in an LRU-like manner but there are too many differences between the Linux replacement policy and LRU to consider it a stack algorithm [#!maekawa87!#]. Even if we ignore the problem of analysing multi-programmed systems [#!coffman80!#] and the fact the memory size for each process is not fixed , the policy does not satisfy the inclusion property as the location of pages in the lists depend heavily upon the size of the lists as opposed to the time of last reference. Neither is the list priority ordered as that would require list updates with every reference. As a final nail in the stack algorithm coffin, the lists are almost ignored when paging out from processes as pageout decisions are related to their location in the virtual address space of the process rather than the location within the page lists.

In summary, the algorithm does exhibit LRU-like behavior and it has been shown by benchmarks to perform well in practice. There are only two cases where the algorithm is likely to behave really badly. The first is if the candidates for reclamation are principally anonymous pages. In this case, Linux will keep examining a large number of pages before linearly scanning process page tables searching for pages to reclaim but this situation is fortunately rare.

The second situation is where there is a single process with many file backed resident pages in the inactive_list that are being written to frequently. Processes and kswapd may go into a loop of constantly ``laundering'' these pages and placing them at the top of the inactive_list without freeing anything. In this case, few pages are moved from the active_list to inactive_list as the ratio between the two lists sizes remains not change significantly.

next up previous contents index
Next: 12. Swap Management Up: 11. Page Frame Reclamation Previous: 11.5 Swapping Out Process   Contents   Index
Mel 2004-02-15